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This question is inspired by an answer of Asaf Karagila in this thread. According to comments beneath Asaf's answer which shows existence of a wide range of ideas about this subject, it seems interesting to know about community's opinion.

There are two important questions in Asaf's post:

Question 1: Does the real identity of a moderator matters besides all other parameters?

  • If yes, what kind of benefits it has?

  • If no, why?

Question 2: Does the age of a moderator matters besides all other parameters?

  • If yes, what is an appropriate age range for a MSE moderator and why?

  • If no, why?

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    $\begingroup$ I certainly agree that this question is interesting. (At least considering some of the candidates in the ongoing election.) But I do not like the poll form of the question. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Dec 11 '14 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak I removed the poll options and edited the question. $\endgroup$ – user180918 Dec 11 '14 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ This is a truly good question and I have to voice an objection to the issue of revealing the true identity as I have pointed out in this comment. $\endgroup$ – Anastasiya-Romanova 秀 Dec 11 '14 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ imo properties of character (being temperate, serene, considered) is one of the most parameters, apart from intellectual calibre. this is the reason why none of the current candidates will be able to replace W. Wong. $\endgroup$ – Mister Benjamin Dover Dec 11 '14 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ I don't want a moderator who can be grounded by their parents and lose access to the internet for days. I'm almost joking, but more generally there are many issues that arise with too young moderators. For example, they need to sign an agreement with SE because they will be exposed to the personal information of some users. Do we need to get their parents to sign it too? Can someone still in high school be trusted with such information? $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Dec 12 '14 at 10:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Najib: That is another good point. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 12 '14 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ I'm shocked that nobody seems to point out that adopting a position where we force people do use their real name on the internet is very dangerous. This way, society internalize the mindset that people who stay anonymous should be granted less options (e.g. becoming moderators) and people are consequently tempted to expose themselves. You don't know who's gonna be interested in your lifetime internet activity in 2040. The script which collects this history can be written in no time. And you don't know what's gonna be judged legal or illegal then. $\endgroup$ – Nikolaj-K Dec 15 '14 at 9:53
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There are quite a few underage moderators on other SE sites, I'm not sure about the exact current number, though. This goes mostly unnoticed simply because unless you check the age field in their profiles, you generally don't notice that those mods are very young, they behave indistinguishable from the older mods. Immaturity would be an argument against a moderator, simply being young isn't in my opinion.

I don't use my real name on SE sites, and I'm a moderator on two different sites. I personally would never use my real name as a moderator simply because I really don't want to deal with issues from the SE site bleeding over into my real life. I don't want to get called at home or work by some crazy user that I dealt with as a moderator, or get a bunch of nasty emails because I suspended someone (both have actually happened to moderators on the SE network).

A moderator candidate on an older site like this one should have a pretty good history of activity on the site. Even without knowing the real identity, this history should contain enough information to judge whether they are a good candidate or not.

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    $\begingroup$ I never got a phone call, even though my work phone is publically listed. I also got only a handful of emails, none of which was harrassing. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Dec 13 '14 at 11:24
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    $\begingroup$ I got a phone call from a person posting here that got one of their questions closed. I've also gotten emails from crazy people. $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Dec 14 '14 at 6:30
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    $\begingroup$ In addition to what @Andres wrote, I got emails from people who wanted help with their question; I've had emails from people who wanted me to be their online advisor; I've had emails from people who just asked me why does my name appear on their question, or what has I edited there; I've had people email me all sort of these things and I'm not even a moderator. But I don't think this is relevant to the discussion here, this is not a discussion about anonymity, it's about moderator anonymity. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 14 '14 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ The above two comments in my opinion strengthen the point made. The problem is not unique to mods; indeed moderation task are not unique to mods either. What was reported can certainly happen to everybody, however I think it would be difficult to deny that higher visibility and involvement leads to higher probability of it happening. Mods are, by being mods, highly visible; others users might also be highly visible. Anyway, that the argument put forward also applies to users other than mods does not take anything away; noone proposes only mods should have the right to be pseudonymous. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 14 '14 at 14:18
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Being the user in question, let me give my point of view.

As others say, this is not a make or break issue for me. It is a preference. If someone exhibits a great deal of moderator related skill (mitigating conflict, ability to follow policies not to one's liking, participation in all sort of ways), I would mind less about who they are.

But I am using this site with my real name. And I am getting recognized for it in real life too. It is a good thing, in general. When I attend conferences, people tell me that their students told them about me, and my online exploits in answering their many questions; when visitors come to Jerusalem, I sometime hear from them that I help their students solve their homework assignments for good or bad.

This means that whatever image this website has in the eyes of people who do not participate in it, it will be associated with my image as well. Having a real life identity that I can associate with a person means not only that I can offer them a drink when I'm around, but also that I feel that I can trust them better not to screw up with my real life identity, simply because they would be screwing up their own as well.

In other SE cultures, programming, sci-fi, whatever, there are either long traditions of using a virtual persona, or not sufficient real life implications to benefit the user for using their real life persona. Naturally, on those sites moderators will be less obligated to use their real names, and since the users are anonymous it is also more likely that there might be actual spillover.

I'm not sure, and I can't quite know, how much real life spillage there has been to our current moderators, but I imagine it is less likely than other sites. (See below)

Finally, the issue of age, I am not saying that age is associated with maturity, but the younger the candidates, the higher probability that they are less-mature. I know because I felt quite mature at 17, and I can tell at 29 that I am still not as nearly as mature as I felt I was back then. And no, I didn't devolve my maturity, I just learned to be better aware of myself.

So I am less trusting of a 15 year old, especially since most teen candidates have little meta participation registered to them, making it virtually impossible for me to judge how mature they might be.


I just ran into Does a moderator candidate need to divulge the real name? which is a similar thread for the first election held on the site.

The arguments given by T.. (which, admittedly, at the time I supported) are similar to those that are given by HDE 226868 in their answer on this page.

But it has been four years now, and I don't recall hearing about a moderator being harassed online, and we had almost all the moderators use their real names (or easily trackable, anyway). Which means that while the concern was valid, it's not as bad as expected. (See below.)

So I can't stand by that argument anymore. I don't feel that using anonymity as a shield is beneficial.


It was pointed out in the comments here by one of the current moderators, that he was "email bombed" once, to which he responded by blocking the address and moving on.

That is not an actual consequence. This is a consequence of publishing your email on the web, including inside papers on arXiv. It means people can decide to harass you in email. To wit, I was acknowledged for some advice in a recent paper (by a user of this site, whose emails were certainly not harassment, and I am not sure if he would have found me without me using my real name), and several days after that paper was posted to arXiv, I began being harassed by a well-known crank.

It is true that I was related to that paper because I used my real name, but who's to say that if I weren't doing so, that user wouldn't have found me anyway through other means? It's hard to judge. But it does show that being mentioned in a paper can get you into the bulk spam-mailing list of arbitrary cranks.

Both myself and Andres Caicedo recount in comments on another answer that we were "harassed" by users either asking us about closure and edits, or asking questions. I don't find that to be distressing. Neither of us is a moderator, and while these might be arguments in favor of staying anonymous as much as you possibly can, and surely there are more arguments for that, I don't find them compelling as arguments for moderators being anonymous.

Having more power means that to establish trust you need more transparency. I am less likely to trust my personal information to someone who is not trusting me with their. And moderators do have access to that sort of information, and more. What can I do about that? Hide my identity, I don't want to do that. Just like anonymous users might not wish to reveal their secret identity to me, I don't want to hide mine. They are the Batmen of the site, and I'm Tony Stark, Iron Man.

What do I count as actual problem in this context? Repeated harassment which is not evadable by a few simple clicks (and I'm not talking about a killswitch for your internet service!). I prefer not to give any ideas here, though. For obvious reasons.

Finally, let me apologize for this mess of an edit. I feel it's far less coherent than the previous parts and for that I am truly sorry.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for sharing your point of view, Asaf! $\endgroup$ – user180918 Dec 12 '14 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ Mad Scientist mentioned some cases. If you think this is only for other sites: at some point some harsh email conversations where even posted to meta.MO as a further step of escalation (no mod involved but it was about moderation, a closure to be precise). Okay, this is also "another site" but I assume you consider it comparable. Also Will Jagy mentioned in passing some issues, more than once. (I hope he does not mind me mentioning it, but he mentioned it in public.) Finally, if I were a mod and subject of such problems I would not go around informing the community at large. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 13 '14 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: I do appreciate these things can happen. And I do agree that the risk they may carry with them is large. But similarly stepping outside is risky, and we do it anyway. I'm not sure how many of these issues would affect a moderator because they are a moderator, rather than just any person who has an email available. I don't see this as any justification. Also see Michael Greinecker's comment below Mad Scientist's answer on this page. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 13 '14 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ Moderators are more visible and more involved in "complicated" situations. But, well, I do not provide my contact details either (and not only since I am a mod somewhere). I had not seen MG's comment before. Glad to here he had no problems so far; not sure this is an argument though. And, all this is a bit mixed, sorry for mentioning again MO, but loud out-cry of some people whose "brand name" was attached to some site they do not like; now, "do not pester" warnings. One cannot have it both ways. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 13 '14 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: I agree that "nothing happened so far" is not a great argument; but "something might happen" is equally bad. As I wrote in my edit, I used to agree that "something might happen", but since nothing happened so far, I don't see a reason to assume that is going to be the case. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 13 '14 at 12:57
  • $\begingroup$ Things did happen. Not all the time (fortunately!) and nothing very severe (as far as I know) but still things happen. IIRC, there are cases around sci.math (I think) of people complaining to the employers of academics about their conduct there. There is also a case of somebody getting not announced visit at their work place of somebody that wanted to continue to discuss about probailities of two coins being heads if one of them is heads or some such stuff. Also, AFAIK "nothing serious happened" but that person was not at all amused about this. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 13 '14 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ Or, ask Will Jagy. I infer you know each other somewhat. I am pretty sure at some point he got the advice on meta.MO, I cannot find it at the moment, to possibly inform the police related to the content of some emails. I do not recall the details. But it was severe enough that somebody serious entertained the idea to inform the police.// Thinking about it, there even was a death thread on MO. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 13 '14 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ Actually I have been targeted by a few email bombs by disgruntled users since becoming a moderator, but I just blocked the addresses, and it's over. Regarding more scary stalking, MSE is a global site, so I think it's unlikely that such a troubled user would happen to be close enough to me to cause a real incident (or that I would piss somebody off enough to travel). $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Dec 13 '14 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ I think you should revise your claim that "nothing happened so far" as it seems incorrect. If you consider what happened as insignificant you might want to spell out what you consider as significant. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 14 '14 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: I will do that later today, I will add that (1) Alexander seems to think that what happened is not serious; and (2) read the comment I left on Mad Scientist's answer, I get unsolicited emails, but that has nothing to do with being a moderator, and the issue is not anonymity in general but rather anonymity as a moderator. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 14 '14 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ I am glad you will update your post. Please read my reply on MS post too. I am glad @AlexanderGruber thinks this is not serious, but I am not sure that he thinking so should be a general guide. Surely there are people that think getting into a physical fight in a bar is not very serious either; I for one try to avoid it (most of the time with success). $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 14 '14 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: Ping. Pong. Ping. Pong. Ping. Pong. Ping. Pong. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 14 '14 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ Asaf, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turandot#Roles The three of them have at least one song together. This is the source of the famous Nessun Dorma, often heard at soccer games: the high C is him saying he will conquer.... metopera.org/metopera/about/education/educatorguides/… $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy Dec 15 '14 at 1:38
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the update. I agree you already presented more coherent arguments;-) But let me try to wrap this up. It is understandable and certainly alright that you have the preference you have. What I do not like is you minimizing certain events. Fine, if you do not mind, others might, I would. Also, the situation is kind of ambivalent, as contrary to you claiming all this is not a big deal, red-flags are raised related to what might rather be good faith attempts at contacting other users. It is also true that the reasons presented do not apply specifically to moderators, but more generally. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 15 '14 at 7:12
  • $\begingroup$ However the argument it is not a consquence of moderating or presence here but a consequence of having ones e-mail available online is a bit misleading. If one is very present online one is likely to get attention, also unwaned one. This presence can take many forms, but only having a standard professional website, ones email listed on some departement pages, and posting to arXiv and publishing is IMO a lot less likely to get you strange mails than being around here a lot and engaged with "problem users." More could be said; but perhaps we said enough. Thanks again. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 15 '14 at 7:17
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The age per se is in my opinion more or less irrelevant. I have seen teenagers behave in remarkably mature ways and I have seen full professors behave in ways that seem best described as childish (on this site and elsewhere).

The bigger issue in my mind is that while moderators are not the judges on mathematical correctness it is still desirable (in my opinion) that the general level of qualification of a moderator (subject-wise) is towards the upper end of the spectrum present on the site.

There are teenagers that achieve this, but they are rare.

The real identity could be relevant to get some insight on the issue of qualification, as described above. However, there are also other ways to have proved ones qualifications.

However, some users expressed that it is relevant to them to have a "real person" attached to the mod-user accounts. As it is relevant to them, it is relevant (to a certain extent).

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Biased though I am about this, perhaps I can write something interesting from the perspective of such a mod.

Question 1

As with Mad Scientist, I don't use my name on SE. I even came up with a new email, as my previous one included my name. To all on SE, I am HDE 226868, not [insert my name here]. I think the only benefit that knowing someone's "real identity" is that it builds trust. Now, I don't want the "only" to take anything away from this benefit. Trust is incredibly important between users in SE, and even more so between a mod and other users/mods.

But I don't think it's necessary to know someone's personal information for them to be a good mod. I believe William Shakespeare was referring to internet accounts when he wrote, "What's in a name?" (note: joke alert). Perhaps it's a little disconcerting to work with a user who does not use their name (particularly when their name is apparently a meaningless string of letters and numbers). But from what I've seen, trust between users depends on their actions on SE. If I behave cordially, I'll receive cordial treatment and hopefully make a good impression.

Question 2

I am quite biased here, but I think I have some reason to support my beliefs: There is not always have a correlation between age and ability/maturity.

For example, I invite you to look carefully at the next immature post you see on SE. I've seen quite a lot on Physics and other sites, and I've noticed that often people who write things like "fdagdhdkfa" or "Well, [insert obscenity here]" and give out their personal information aren't generally kids.$^1$ Likewise, those who insist on posting wacky ideas on faked moon landings on Space Exploration, write about nonsense theories on Physics, or who treat Skeptics as if it is a site for uber-conspiracy theorists aren't, in general, kids.

Now, would any of these users be elected (or chosen) - or even nominated - as mods? No. But still, there doesn't seem to be a definitive correlation between age and maturity.


$^1$ Sure the sample is limited because many don't put their age in their profiles, but the majority who do are adults. There's still the issue that a kid might be less likely to put their age on their profile, but that might not be statistically important.

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  • $\begingroup$ You certainly have a right to be pseudonymous; contributing as public persons (as I am, and many users of this site) has various disadvantages – see e.g. Mad Scientist’s answer. Note I do not speak about real names; although I never had a passport with “Incnis Mrsi”, everyone in Internet can relate all my names without major difficulties. But since you’re pseudonymous, you deny inquiry of significant parts of your Internet track, outside SE and possibly inside as well. It inherently decreases trust. Yes, you bought security at expense of trust. It was you who choose it. $\endgroup$ – Incnis Mrsi Dec 14 '14 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @IncnisMrsi That's an excellent point. For me it doesn't matter because besides SE, my only other internet account is email, but for others, it would matter. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Dec 14 '14 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ No exposure to the Internet, neither direct nor mediated, but SE and Email? Poor man(?), I certainly would consider your comment at worldbuilding.SE more seriously had you more credentials (I’d not say yet another time how I detest physics.SE). $\endgroup$ – Incnis Mrsi Dec 14 '14 at 21:44
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Personally, I choose to use my real name because I believe in (what I view to be) the mission of this website, and I do want to feel personally accountable for its quality and public image. I very much agree that it is a big plus for a moderator to be invested enough to associate MSE with his or her real life identity. It may not be essential, but it shows commitment.

It also reminds other users that I am, in fact, a human being. I have a name, I have a job, I have an email and a website. You can see what I look like in two clicks. Being faceless protects you from having to act as yourself when you wield authority, but on the other hand, people are more likely to cooperate with somebody they know. So, a benefit would be that it promotes acting in good faith, which is a important asset to a moderator.

As far as the age thing goes, I'm going to say it doesn't matter. The average young person is less mature, so, is it true that being younger correlates with lower moderation ability? Maybe, maybe not. One could make similar assertions about gender or race or anything else, and argue about whether it is pure prejudice, or if there is some truth to it. But the real answer is that trends within in a population of people are irrelevant here, because we are dealing with individuals. They're right in front of us. We should be assessing their maturity based off their behavior, not their demographics.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't claim that the age is an essential factor. I am saying that when most candidates haven't shown too much personality, it becomes a factor in my decision. No to mention what Najib wrote in the comments to the question. I do agree very much with what you said about real identities. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 14 '14 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander: I saw SE mods and high-rep users behaving in irresponsible and abusive manner in spite of having identities not concealed. I saw the same in Wikipedia, sometimes from IRL acquaintances of my friends, or of myself. In fact, Internet people are rarely willing to conflate their conflicts online with real life. Open identity IRL isn’t a thing that could enforce responsibility at websites; where online mechanisms are ineffective, public identities will not help. But “people are more likely to cooperate with somebody they know” is an important argument in favour of public identities. $\endgroup$ – Incnis Mrsi Dec 14 '14 at 21:20

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